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Clubbing against climate change

Midnight in Rotterdam and the city was exploding into life. The bikes were stacked four deep outside the opening-night party at nightclub WATT, located between a rain-lashed public park and a fast-food Asian restaurant on a gritty downtown avenue.

A shaven-headed bouncer checked the guest list and teenagers gabbled into their cellphones. WATT looked the archetypal cool new venue for Rotterdam’s hedonistic clubbers, who power the city’s reputation as the European capital of electronic music. But the club has another agenda, as the trailblazer for the green-clubbing movement.

When I last came to Rotterdam 18 months ago, WATT was still a series of architectural drawings. In rabbit-hutch offices behind a petrol station on the fringe of town, Stef van Dongen, director of green entrepreneur consultancy Enviu, showed me the blueprints for the world’s first venue to use his sustainable dance club (SDC) concept. He spoke of enlisting clubbers as the foot soldiers of a new sustainability movement that combines youth culture with a commitment to sustainable living.

This week, Stef’s vision came to fruition when WATT opened its doors for the first time. And I was there to see how those initial plans had translated into green-themed bricks and mortar.

The club has four sections: a main hall with capacity for 1 500, a basement for 300, two rooftops with chill-out space for smoking (banned this summer in Holland) and the Lulu Cafe with 20 covers at street level and an all-day menu. The venue is designed to reduce energy consumption by 30%, and water consumption and waste production by 50% compared to a typical dance venue. Green initiatives include a rainwater-flush system for toilets, renewable energy sources and LED lighting, and a zero-waste bar serving organic drinks in recycled plastic cups. The key feature is the basement’s energy-generating dancefloor, whereby the movement of the dancers is converted into electricity by an electro-magnetic generator under the floor.

By midnight the club was heaving with hardcore clubbers, a multi-cultural mix of local teenagers attracted by the broad music policy from techno to R&B, and curious locals who remember the club’s former incarnation as a venue for gigs by Underworld and Johnny Cash.

As I hit the dancefloor, busting my best moves in the sweaty basement, the sound of Euro trance pumped from the sound system. An MC dressed as a hip-hop nun rapped the words “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” over the beat while two DJs with towering Afros deftly worked the decks, and the gauge at the side of the dancefloor glowed green, indicating that the crowd had pushed power levels to maximum.

“I like the idea of a green club but I’m here more for the cool design and great music,” said local student Tarona Leonora. “I wouldn’t come if it was just a green club, but the way you can make a difference to climate change by coming clubbing here, well, that’s pretty cool.”

Stef is optimistic that the concept will gain popularity. “Around 130 clubs and festivals, including ones in New York, Cape Town and Sao Paolo, are interested in being direct customers of the SDC project; a larger group have taken the idea but are going it alone in developing the technology,” said Stef, whose next project is to send a flotilla of green-fuel hybrid tuk-tuks to India early next year.

But so far the dancefloor only generates 300 watts of power — just enough to light up the coloured LEDs set into the floor tiles.

Professor Han Brezet of the Delft University of Technology, who patented and designed the energy-generating floor in collaboration with Enviu, sees the wider picture.

“The opening of WATT is just a small step,” he said. “WATT will make a difference in the context of changing mindsets. About 90% of green projects in Rotterdam are focused on the industry in the harbour, so ordinary people see little benefit. But WATT proves that the real change can come from individuals, more than local government or big business.” —

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